Friday, October 01, 2004
We're lucky enough at my workplace to have quite a nice employee cafeteria (which is actually open to the public as well). Paul, the food service genius who runs the place, comes up with some really great stuff.
Today he had a "lo-carb luncheon" that consisted of your choice of ham or chicken, with garlic spaghetti squash and some steamed broccoli.
It was the spaghetti squash that really caught my eye. I totally dig it. My mother never went within 100 yards of one as far as I know, so I am one of the (apparently) few who was never traumatized my childhood exposure to this oft-maligned squash. I don't cook it very often at home, largely because my wife is one of the traumatized, but I think she's starting to get over it. It's a great vegetable. You can do just about anything you would with pasta, only it's not full of bad-for-you over processed white flour and dreaded carbs. This was very well executed, plenty of garlic, nicely al dente. Mmmmmmm.
Do yourself and your palette a favor and check out a spaghetti squash near you.
Monday, September 20, 2004
I tried something new this weekend that I thought I'd share. I was cooking over an open campfire, so it didn't turn out quite the way I'd been shooting for, but was still pretty good.
My wife had made some cheese earlier in the day, so we had some leftover whey, which makes a great base for soup, so I added to the whey some onions, a couple of nitrate-free ham hocks, some turnips, and about half a dozen Italian prune plums (all chopped). I let that simmer (or as close as possible on a fire) then added some beef broth and some lentils.
I think everything boiled a bit more vigorously than I had intended, so by the time it was done it was more casserole than the soup I was going for, but still quite tasty.
Monday, September 13, 2004
I did a stint as the Viking Chef at an SCA demo this weekend. Pretty fun. Lots of people wandered by asking questions and trying the snacks. It wasn't quite as organized as I had thought it was going to be, so I skipped the "they didn't have recipes" spiel and just answered questions. My contributions to the snacky bits were some "Viking porridge" which consisted of bacon, onions, apples, and oatmeal, and some barley cakes (just barley flour, salt, milk and eggs) with strawberry jam. The porridge was better-received than I would have thought, although several people reflexively recoiled as soon as they hear oatmeal and onions in the same sentence.
My son, on the other hand, came back for seconds.
Wednesday, September 08, 2004
Portland's weather has been a bit more reasonable (by our standards) this week, and it makes my thoughts turn to cooking. I tend to do much less cooking in the summer time, since I'm loath to pump any extra heat into my kitchen. I realize there are plenty of things you can cook without resorting to heat, but that takes some sort of forethought and planning, both of which I've had in short supply this summer.
One of my favorite cool weather dishes is soup, of just about any kind. Way more than my family wants to eat usually. My top favorite soups:
- Chowder, of just about any kind. Fish, clam, etc. My son's totally wild for clam chowder. I prefer cod chowder myself, with salt pork instead of bacon. Check out Jasper White's 50 Chowders.
- Caldo gallego (or caldo verde in Portugal). A fabulous soup of spicy sausage (linguisa or spanish chorizo is best, I often settle for andouille, since I have a good source) with potatoes, white beans and kale or other greens. I usually use a nice dark beef broth, and "dinosaur" or "lacinto" kale, which has very dark, long thin leaves.
- Gulyas (aka "goulash"). I like the Hungarian version, with little egg noodle dumplings and lots of paprika. There's another Hungarian soup that I almost like more that involves lots of smoked pork products and sauerkraut, but I can't think of the name right now. It's supposed to be a great hangover cure.
- Borscht. Love it. Especially with both beef and ham. And a really lot of beets. I also like to add apples and white beans, and lots of garlic.
- Pozole. A Mexican dish, often with pork, lots of hominy, and lots of toppings that you add as you like, such as lettuce, cheese, lime juice, tomatoes, avocados etc. Very tasty, and can be bland for those who like it plain, to jazzed up with extra ingredients for the more daring. There was a great little Mexican hamburger place down the street from my house that had great pozole. Unfortunately they closed, so I'm looking for a new source. I make it at home a fair amount too, since it'd dead simple. Use lots of Mexican oregano (not the Mediterranean kind).
- Kimchee and tofu soup. One of my favorites, with pork, and possibly white fish. Very tasty, and warming.
This isn't even taking into account bean dishes that might be soupy. I'll address them some other time. Mmmmmm, beans...
Tuesday, September 07, 2004
I'm always on the lookout for a good plate of biscuits and gravy. It's one of those dishes that can either be really great if properly executed, or something you'll regret for the rest of your day. Given today's dietary trends, it's pretty much on the outs, since it tends to be loaded with both fat and carbs. I've tried lo-glycemic biscuits and gravy, and had some pretty decent successes, but most restaurants go for the old fashioned fluffy white biscuits. As an occasional indulgence, I'm willing to take the hit. This weekend I happened to be in lovely Port Gamble, WA, and found quite a lovely plate of said delicacy at the Port Gamble General Store. They have an all you can eat breakfast buffet for a very reasonable $5.95 on Saturday and Sunday mornings. If you happen to be in the neighborhood, check it out. You can also get a good plate of b&g at the RV park just north of Kalama, WA, or at least you could a few years back.
If you want to make lo-glycemic biscuits and gravy at home, here are some suggestions:
- don't skimp on the biscuits. I like Bob's Redmill Lo-carb baking mix, but I've made them from scratch too. I go heavy on the barley flour, since I'm more interested in glycemic index than in no-carb.
- for the love of heaven don't use weird lo-carb thickeners. I've had gravy thickened with xanthum gum instead of the traditional roux, and it's VILE. No flavor at all. Yuck. I use something lower-glycemic like barley or whole spelt flour, since if you aren't going to make a roux, it's not gravy, it's greasy soup. If you are that concerned about carbs, do yourself a favor and eat something else.
- soy milk works OK. It comes out pretty well. However, make sure you use unflavored. My wife made a batch from vanilla soymilk once, since it's all she had. The result turned out to be way better over oatmeal than biscuits.
- the better the quality of your sausage or bacon for the gravy, the better the result. I like New Season's bulk pork breakfast sausage.
All these gravy tips apply equally to the even more ambrosial dish, chicken fried steak, which is well worth making at home if you like that kind of thing. I realize many people just don't, but I was raised by hippy vegetarians, so chicken fried steak, or even chipped beef on toast is and exotic slice of heaven as far as I'm concerned.
This Saturday (9/11), there's going to be an historic cooking demo/exposition at the Beaverton Farmer's Market. There are a whole series of 1/2 hour demos planned on various styles/periods/etc. I'll be playing the part of "Viking Chef" at around 9:30 I think. Come on down. There will be foods to try, cooking to watch, plus all the benefits of what I've heard is a pretty great Farmer's Market.
Monday, August 02, 2004
If you ever happen to be in The Dalles, OR and you're looking for a good cup of coffee, check out Holstein's Cafe ( 303 E 3rd Street).
I myself just happened to be in the Dalles yesterday, and looking for a good place for a post-camping trip breakfast, stumbled upon Holstein's. A fine double latte, and some of the best biscuits and gravy I've had in a while. Nice fluffy biscuits, not too soda-y (as cheap ones tend to be). The sausage gravy was of the perfect saltiness, with nice, evenly sized bits of good sausage. Fluid enough to work with but not runny. In short, a fine hearty breakfast.
On the subject of biscuits and gravy... I love 'em. My wife's family is from Oklahoma, where people know a thing or two about gravy, and they turned me on to the whole b&g thing. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to try the ones made by her Grandma, since no one since has been able to duplicate her gravy perfection. Vikki's brother is also a big fan, and since he's into Atkins, we've done some experimenting with lo-carb biscuits and gravy, with varying levels of success. The biscuits aren't too hard. I prefer Bob's Red Mill low carb baking mix, which makes really good biscuits, especially with home-rendered lard. The gravy is slightly harder.
Personally, I'm more interested in low-glycemic than low-carb per se, so I use a little spelt or barley flour to thicken the gravy, which works out pretty well. Ted uses Xanthum gum, which I think makes the gravy way too tasteless, and the texture is weird. I'm willing to use a little flour to get the taste right. Plus I like more sage in my gravy.
I've tried similar things with another perennial favorite, chicken-fried steak. Unfortunately that's one thing Vikki doesn't share my love of, so I get less chance to experiment. I've several good runs using good quality pounded round steaks with a coating of barley flour, salt and pepper, and plenty of sage. Fry those puppies up to a nice golden brown and coat liberally in gravy. That's good eatin'.
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
Sorry it's taken me a while to get these posted. I never seem to have a computer and the recipes at the same time...
Ham in Red Wine and Fennel Sauce
(this is for 50 people, all measurements approximate)
- Red wine ( I used a big bottle, but that’s cooking for 50)
- A cup or so sapa (reduced sweet wine) I cheated and used about ¾ of a can of frozen grape juice concentrate
- ½ or so red wine vinegar (should come out sweet/sour)
- Tbl. or so each of dill weed and thyme
- 2 tbl. or so coriander
- ¼ - ½ a cup honey (again, going for sweet and sour)
- 2 heads of fennel, chopped
- Tsp. of black pepper.
Boil the whole thing until the fennel is tender, then puree. Server over warm or cold ham slices.
Originally from a description in the “Heidelberg Papyrus”.
- Peeled, seeded and chopped cucumbers
- While wine vinegar
- Olive oil
Braise the cucumbers in the sauce ingredients until just approaching tender and serve warm.
Originally described in Pliny’s Natural History.
Celery in Raisin Sauce
- Red wine vinegar
- Sapa (again I used frozen grape juice concentrate)
- Dried onion flakes
Cover the raisins in the sauce ingredients and let sit for an hour or two until plumped. Puree. I served the sauce with celery that had been stir-fried until hot but still crisp. I’ve tried it before over steamed celery, but I think I like stir-fried better.
Originally described in Columella’s On Agriculture.
- Oil for frying
- Salt & pepper
Fry until tender.
Originally described in Anthimus’ On Foods.
Chickpeas and cheese
- Cooked chickpeas (canned or from dried)
- Hard cheese such as parmesan or pecorino. I used good old green tube Kraft parmesan.
Heat up the chickpeas and coat in the cheese.
Originally described in Galen’s On the Powers in Foods.
All of these recipes I found described in Mark Grant’s fabulous Roman Cookery (Serif, London, 1999).
More to follow…
Monday, July 19, 2004
The feast came off really well this weekend. I think everyone had a good time, and the food came out pretty well, if I do say so myself.
It's the first time I've tried cooking for 50 people, and the two big takeaways so far are that I made WAY too much food, and that I should have done more prep work at home. Cooking for 50 over a camp stove with no electricity or running water was an interesting challenge. Also, note to self: many people seem to not like fennel. Thankfully it wasn't an integral part of the meal, since it was only in the sauce for the ham, but still, something to keep in mind. On the other hand, some people really like it. My son kept coming by for leftover fennel tops to chew on. Kids are weird.
I'm going to be posting the recipes I used and any changes I made to what was in the books I used over the next few days, so stay tuned.
Maybe next year I could try ancient Messopotamian (sp?) food. It would lead to some interesting decor, if nothing else.
Thursday, July 15, 2004
So the Roman "dinner" I'd planned turned into a "feast" for 50 people, complete with decorations, togas, triclinia, etc. Should be quite the do. I'll end up spending most of Saturday cooking, but that's usually pretty fun anyway.
The menu as planned includes:
- Ham in red wine and fennel sauce
- Chicken in "green sauce"
- fried carrots
- braised cucumbers
- chickpeas with cheese
- celery in raisin sauce
- boiled eggs with pine nut sauce
- assorted table snacks, olives, bread, cheese, almonds, etc.
I'm going to try to take some pictures (of both process and product) and I'll post them here if any turn out.
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